Follow your dreams and turn that fiery fervour into your reality. This isn't just the story of one, but that of many persons who created the businesses that we interact with every day. Adding value to the lives of others through great work brings not only joy to the founder but impacts those in the surrounding environment. Today's Corporate Profile is focused on the story of JFP Limited which has created products for more than three decades that have served thousands of people across the Western Hemisphere.
While Stephen Sirgany was born in Jamaica, he spent most of his youth in the United States of America (USA). It was during this time that his passion for cars was developed alongside his father. One such car was with the Italian Alfa Romeo brand. This pushed him to make a flare kit for his own Alfa Romeo vehicle.
"My father had a garage, and I had an Alfa Romeo and I made a flare kit back in the late 1970s/early 1980s. His customers were interested in it, and I understood the best way to copy what I did was to make a fibreglass mould and be able to produce the parts in fibreglass. I knew nothing about fibreglass. I picked up the telephone book and I found out who did fibreglass and I learned that trade," Sirgany told the Jamaica Observer in an interview last week.
While he couldn't pay the person to make the fibreglass mould of the car, the person taught him how to make it instead. After demonstrating his vehicle at the Road Atlanta Racetrack, he was interviewed by a magazine which published his work on his Alfa Romeo. Alfa Romeo North America was so impressed by what he had accomplished with the material that they ordered 100 flare kits on a limited-edition car. This pushed him to return to Jamaica to not only seek the space, but also find the manpower to carry out the work. This job started under a mango tree with a couple of friends.
At the same time, Metry Seaga was working alongside his parents' car rental and manufacturing businesses. Seaga's mind was always imagining how to create things and he wanted to do something on his own in that space. With Sirgany back in Jamaica and both men aspiring for greater opportunities, the two formed Jamaica Fibreglass Products Limited on October 8, 1985.
"I was running my parents' car rental business and wanted to start something on my own. When the opportunity came up and I discussed it with Stephen, it was an actual fit for both of us," Seaga added.
The two had won a successful bid with the business moving to downtown Kingston. During the time when Jamaica had a larger manufacturing base, persons approached them to make the inside of fridges with fibreglass. They then went on to make other products with the material which eventually led to a partnership to form a race car in 1990.
"We had a partnership with Serv-Wel at one time. Serv-Wel was a big manufacturing facility which made all sorts of commercial products and they were our suppliers. We linked up with them and made a race car and Prime Minister Michael Manley sat in it. It was quite amazing to have the prime minister sit down in a car and we got pictures of him in our Serv-Wel/fibreglass race car," Sirgany recalled on his earlier memories.
These early successes led the budding company to appreciate critical lessons in business especially on maintaining relationships as a partnership and with customers. Sirgany and Seaga have always shared an office together and always discussed everything together.
"The first thing we learned was being reliable. Whenever we committed to a job, we were on time, whatever it took. On the manufacturing side of things, I think it was teaching my staff there's only a right way and there's no shortcut. Fibreglass is a process and if you cheat the process, you stick the product or lose the product that causes trouble," Sirgany explained.
However, the business had to adapt fast as the environment changed and the decade of financial hardship reigned in the 1990s. This led the men and team to keep adding to their toolkit of products they created and materials they worked with at any time. The company works with aluminium, stainless steel and other materials in addition to substrates and powders for colour on products. Fibreglass makes up the smallest part of what they do today as they do six or seven forms of manufacturing.
"If I had to count on fibreglass alone, I'd have gone out of business because it's a very durable product. So, we had to really go into other forms of manufacturing such as metal to help support the tables and bases. Then we got into solid surfaces like Corian and kept on growing our client base and doing different products. We got into office furniture, planters, garbage cans and kept making many products," Sirgany explained as they diversified the business.
Like any other small business, JFP experienced the difficulties of cash flow timing with the payment of liabilities. The two principals looked at each other at times trying to figure out where do they go next to pay a bill. Sirgany even sold the car he drove to work one Friday to pay staff that same day.
Despite these hard times, they survived and thrived in the following years as they did business across the Caribbean and with the rising restaurant chains. McDonald's and Taco Bell once operated in Jamaica, but KFC, Pizza Hut and Häagen-Dazs operated across the rest of the region. They have also provided furniture to major international hotel chains and even domestic ones as well.
"We're not just a manufacturer. We have a drawing department and are custom making exactly what the customer needs for each environment. Sometimes it comes to us rigid where we're told exactly what they want, and we have to work it out for others. We're a commercial contract manufacturer," said Sirgany as he explained the change of the company's name to just JFP Limited in December 2021.
While JFP's products have stood the test of the time and gained regional recognition, they still push to gain recognition at home. Sirgany said, "One of the biggest challenges right through and up to today still is to buy local. Getting people to realise that products made in Jamaica are as good or better than foreign. I think we have a mentality as Jamaicans that if it doesn't come from foreign, it isn't good. Back in the day, it was always comparing everything against America and were we good enough, sure."
JFP's work has been recognised by more than 25 territories especially as the successful work done for one brand in one country automatically gains entry to other markets. This comes at a time when supply chain disruptions have pushed more firms to nearshore as they continue their branch and hotel expansions or renovations. One major company has already contracted the firm to do work in two major Caricom markets for globally recognised brands.
"By going to the shows, going to the expo's in the islands and once we're approved here, then we get approved throughout the region. We've been doing all of these brands throughout the Caribbean and we've broken ground in Panama with Starbucks and KFC," Sirgany added.
With the company in tip-top shape at its new 155 Spanish Town Road head office after the 2008 recession, the company aimed to go public on the Junior Market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) in 2011. However, those plans didn't come to fruition as the business endured the reality of being a contract manufacturer.
"Our business is what we'd have to say 'lumpy'. We have steady work, but what can make the difference is big jobs. Big jobs like those can make the difference. We were lining up to go public that year and two big jobs didn't come through. We decided the best thing to do was pull back, regrouped and came again," Sirgany added.
After having its best year on record in 2019 and there being a steady pipeline of work around the horizon, the company considered the idea of going public once again. However, the novel coronavirus struck and left the company searching for a way to pivot. This was achieved through the production of acrylic screens and shields along with testing booths under the Citizen Response Jamaica initiative.
"We were fortunate enough to not close for a day through the pandemic when it was very tough out there. We have some fabulous customers and every one of them in less than a week told us to come to a halt. This was after they gave us an order at the beginning of the year saying they were going to do 10 stores for the year."
JFP finally went public on March 14, 2022, where it garnered $675 million in subscriptions while the initial public offering was only for $280 million. The listing not only opened up the opportunity for greater publicity, but also gave the company the chance to enhance its governance and succession planning initiatives. The company is now looking to focus on more exports and provide value to its shareholders at its 75,000-square-foot factory.
"At the rate we're going, sales are looking great. We always say give us a shot in America on the east coast as shipping is cheap. The containers come down full and go up empty. There are good rates for us to send up products. Our challenge is to get out the work and if we get out all the work we have on time, we're going to have our best year. I think we're doing all the right things for growth and we're gearing up to have a great year," Sirgany said with a beaming face.
"It's been a great journey. Over the 37 years, I've had varying degrees of responsibilities here from it being my only job to it being one of many. Having good business partners you can rely on when the need not to be there has been a great thing. We all have the best interest of the business at heart. Communication and a drive pulling in the same direction for the same goals are the things that have made this partnership successful," Seaga closed.